Greens a rich part of black history

February 5, 2012 5:20:39 AM PST
Black History Month specials typically look at accomplishments by individuals. But the Hungry Hound says it's also important to consider the recipes that make up the black experience in America.

The history of greens in the African American diet says volumes.

Customers come for the namesake, naturally, at Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles --whether it's in Oak Park, or the original, in Bronzeville. But they also come for the greens.

"Because it's a smoked turkey, it gives it that smoky taste and it just flavors the greens really well and seasons them really well," said Tonya Johnson, one of the owners of Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles.

Johnson says cooking greens requires patience, due in part to collards' cell structure.

"You have to let them simmer and they have to cook for a few hours actually to get the toughness out. If you try to take them and serve them after two hours the greens are very tough, and it's not that enjoyable," she said.

The roots of this side dish are obviously in Africa. Yet when you look closer at the indigenous ingredients, it's not collards, but rather, spinach that shows up on the table, especially at restaurants like Bolat African Cuisine in Uptown and Lakeview.

"Kids in Africa, they always want to eat greens because of the flavor that goes in there, whereas kids here, they don't really like it. Growing up, it's one of the things that you wish you had on your plate when you're eating," said Emmanuel Abidemi, owner of Bolat.

Palm oil is first heated, then in goes a vibrant sauce of tomatoes, peppers and habanero chiles. Powdered bouillon, kosher salt and locust beans add another layer of flavor, along with fried whiting; finally, bell peppers and onions for crunch. Cayenne pepper provides a jolt of heat, before baby spinach goes in and cooks for just a couple of minutes.

"You don't want them to cook too long because it just becomes wilted. You still want a little bit of that crunch from that spinach because that just tells you it's fresh, freshly made and everything like that," Abidemi said.

So greens play a crucial role in the African culture. Whether they're consumed as collards in the American South or as spinach from Africa - although I will warn you: the ones made from Africa are much hotter than the ones from the South.

If you don't like your greens really spicy - like they make them at Bolat - you can get them a little milder at their Lakeview location. But the one in Uptown caters mostly to ex-pats, which means no compromising on the heat.

3346 N Clark St
(773) 665-1100
4623 N. Broadway
(773) 944-1417

Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles
3947 S. King Dr.
(773) 536-3300